Do Psychic Powers Exist in Poker?

Poker Pro Jake Cody

Some poker pros like to believe that they can ‘read souls’ around the card table, with players such as Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu springing to mind. Even the ‘Godfather of Poker’ himself, Doyle Brunson, wrote about the subject in his seminal work Super/System (1979), stating that “there’s too much evidence to ignore that ESP exists or that most people have it to some degree.”

While most players consider the notion of extrasensory perception (ESP) or second sight as fanciful at best, things do sometimes occur at the tables which seem to defy a rational explanation. Therefore, before we dismiss the possibility of psychic abilities out of hand, lets delve a little bit more into the subject first.

The Psychic Gambling Supersystem

One of the most recent gambling books on the subject was written by Sunil Padiyar. In his book called ‘The Psychic Gambling Supersystem’, the Indian-American author claims that formidable poker players, such as Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu, have powerful energy fields which makes them impossible to beat with skill alone. As an extract of his book explains:

“Human beings possess a subtle energy field that envelops the physical body. When activated, it is capable of manufacturing luck and producing remarkably accurate powers of intuition and foresight. Beneath the deceptive fabric of everyday reality, energy fields, continually wage wars to determine who ‘gets lucky.’ Individuals who possess active energy fields will dominate those with passive energy fields.”

On the face of it, this may seem like just another in a long line of pseudo-scientific books released in order to make their authors, rather than their readers, a nice profit. Nevertheless, many poker players have alluded to such a phenomena in the past, including the aforementioned Doyle Brunson.

WSOP bracelet winner Phil Laak even claimed to have developed superhuman abilities while setting a marathon poker endurance record in 2010. As Laak commented during his 4 days and 19 hours feat:

“I feel as if another door of the matrix has opened. I am seeing way more than I saw before. It is hummingly trippy on so many levels. I am fairly sure that this version of me would have a huge edge over the version of me that was playing a month ago.”

Is ESP Just Pseudoscience?

There have been many studies and experiments conducted over the years to determine whether or not there is any scientific basis behind phenomena such as ESP or telekinesis. To date, however, there has been no compelling evidence collected, despite numerous University-sanctioned studies. These include ones undertaken at Stanford University (1972-1980s), Princeton University (1979-2007) and Harvard University (1990s-2008).

Perhaps the biggest argument against the phenomena, however, is the ‘One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge‘ offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). A huge million dollar prize awaited anyone who could demonstrate supernatural or paranormal ability under scientific testing conditions. More than a thousand people unsuccessfully attempted to prove their supernatural abilities between 1964-2015, leading to the challenge’s termination in 2015.

Rational Explanation

For the more scientific minded, claims by poker players to be able to predict cards and a player’s actions are more tied to the subconscious than any clairvoyant psychic power. Below the level of consciousness, our brains are constantly storing and retrieving data. By the age of 21, for instance, a person has already stored over a hundred times the content of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Therefore, a player receives all kinds of knowledge from past playing experience which may seem almost supernatural at the time. This includes patterns and habits observed in prior deals, as well as the skilled reading of an opponent’s “tells”. Also skewing our perceptions are selective memory of when our predictions come true, such as when a river card hits. This may then lead a player to wonder whether they may have psychic abilities. However, they will also tend to conveniently forget all the other times their predictions may have missed the mark by a mile.